Human rights


The Guna won their land from the Panamanian government after a revolution in 1925 and have been managing it communally ever since. Here Marcos Ramirez (center) directs members of the Yarsuisuit Collective as they weed a plot that they cultivate in the forest. Photo by Bear Guerra.

Like many of the world’s indigenous groups, Panama’s Guna people are facing formidable challenges: the impacts of climate change, encroaching outside influences, and a younger generation that’s drifting away from its roots.

Yet their situation is not nearly as dire as it might be. One reason is their communal system of forest management, which is emerging as a model of conservation and the sustainable use of resources.

Homelands’ Bear Guerra and Ruxandra Guidi spent time with the Guna this summer and teamed up on a photo essay and article for the environmental magazine Ensia.


Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.

Why have the U.S. and Israel pursued policies in Palestine that have failed again and again? In an op-ed piece in TomDispatch, Homelands’ Sandy Tolan looks at the history, psychology, and cold political calculation behind yet another tragic confrontation.

[Sandy’s piece was republished in; you can check out that version and read the comments here.]

We at Homelands are mourning the loss, on the morning of November 15, of our dear friend, colleague, fellow Homelands board member, and trailblazing journalist, Raul Ramirez.

Raul Ramirez, 1946-2013

Raul Ramirez, 1946-2013. Photo: Ian Hill/KQED.

Accolades about Raul have been coming in for weeks, ever since his countless friends learned that he was suffering from esophageal cancer, and that he probably wouldn’t make it.

KQED’s obituary, and the comments that follow it, hint not only at the outpouring of love for this remarkable man, but at his inspirational reach, through his teaching, mentoring, leadership, and the standard of unsurpassed integrity that he established.

Here’s one example, from the obituary by David Weir and Patricia Yollin:

In May 1976, after months of investigation, Ramirez and freelance journalist Lowell Bergman broke a story for the Examiner about a Chinatown gang murder case titled “How Lies Sent Youth to Prison for Murder.” The article detailed how an assistant district attorney and two police inspectors had pressured witnesses into lying, resulting in the conviction of Richard Lee. The three law enforcement officers sued the Examiner, Bergman and Ramirez for libel, seeking $30 million in damages.

When the Examiner, then owned by the Hearst Corp., refused to provide counsel for the freelancer Bergman, leaving him without representation, Ramirez as a matter of principle and conscience refused to be represented by the Examiner’s lawyer and joined with Bergman to seek outside counsel. A group of journalists and lawyers rallied around the two reporters and raised enough money to hire a lawyer and fight the case. Though they initially lost in Superior Court and were ordered to pay $4.56 million in damages, Bergman and Ramirez spent the next decade fighting the verdict. Ultimately, the libel ruling was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1986. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision, ending the matter once and for all.

Raul Ramirez was a magnificent human being. His way of living in the world remains an inspiration. We will miss you terribly, dear Raul, but we will go on living with you within us. That will always be a gift, and a comfort, and a way of grounding us in the direction of the kind, the humane, the brave, the curious, the decent, and the fun.


Raul’s family has asked that donations in his memory be made to The Raul Ramirez Diversity in Journalism Fund at San Francisco State University.

Checks should be made out to The San Francisco State University Foundation with a notation that the donation is for “The Raul Ramirez Diversity in Journalism Fund.” Please mail to: Office of University Development, ATTN: Andrea Rouah, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave., ADM 153, San Francisco, CA 94132.

 To donate online, go to Select “Other” from the drop-down menu of “I Would Like to Support” and, in the text box “If Other, Enter Designation,” type “The Raul Ramirez Diversity in Journalism Fund.”

Today’s news from the Supreme Court brought back memories of a story I reported in 2006 for a BBC series on juvenile justice around the world. I traveled to Colorado to meet with young men serving life without parole for crimes they had committed when they were teenagers. I also met with families, prosecutors, officials, and activists. It was an emotional, enlightening, and enraging trip, and I think the story, which runs nearly 22 minutes, was as good as anything I’ve been involved in.

The piece was produced and narrated by Vera Frankl, a longtime Homelands friend and collaborator. The audio is still online – please click on the link above if you’re interested. Hundreds of people are in prison around the country for crimes they committed as juveniles; some did not engage in violence but were accessories to violent crimes committed by others.


The latest “Food for 9 Billion” feature, on the connection between farmland investment and displacement in Ethiopia, airs tonight on PBS NewsHour. It was produced and reported by Cassandra Herrman and Beth Hoffman and edited by Cassandra and David Ritsher at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Saudi-owned company Saudi Star plans to create Africa’s largest rice farm in Ethiopia and export the rice to the Middle East. Photo: Dallas McNamara

In recent months, both Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute have released reports critical of the Ethiopian government’s “villagization” program, which moves isolated farm families into permanent settlements.

The Human Rights Watch report documents the removal of tens of thousands of members of the minority Anuak tribe from their farms in the Gambella region. It includes satellite maps showing patterns of displacement.

The Oakland Institute’s investigations look at various land deals in Ethiopia and their impact on local populations.

Both organizations have questioned whether donor money is facilitating the forced relocation of Ethiopian farmers. Ethiopia receives more than $1 billion a year in US aid. The Ethiopian government denies that the villagization program is connected to its policy of leasing prime farmland to foreign corporations.